The Old Testament Book of Daniel is the source of several icons.  It is an historical fiction (though presented as history) set in Babylon in the time of Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 b.c.e).  It was actually written, scholars have determined, in the 2nd century c.e.  It is partly in Hebrew, partly in Aramaic.  The version used in Eastern Orthodoxy is longer than that of the Protestant Bible, including additions written in Greek:  The Prayer of Azariah, Susannah, and Bel and the Dragon.

The Prayer of Azariah segment is inserted between Chapter 3:23 and 3:24 of Daniel.  It includes the “Song of the Three Holy Youths,” which is used as part of an Eastern Orthodox canon sung during Matins, etc. The Susannah segment forms Chapter 13 of Daniel in Eastern Orthodox bibles.  It is widely known in Western art for the erotic scene of Susannah watched by the voyeuristic Elders while bathing.  Bel and the Dragon forms Chapter 14 of Daniel in Eastern Orthodox Bibles (and yes, it really does feature a dragon).

Significantly Daniel, being a very late composition, is the only Old Testament book to give angels names, as do the so-called Apocrypha and the New Testament.  It is in Daniel that we are first introduced to the angels Michael and Gabriel, very common figures in icons.

Briefly, the Book of Daniel relates the tale of an aristocratic Jewish young man taken captive during the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem.  Brought to the city of Babylon, he is made an official in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.  He becomes well-known in the court because of his ability to interpret dreams, which he does both for Nebuchadnezzar and his successor Cyrus, King of Persia.

Through the wiles of his enemies, Daniel is thrown by the King into a den of lions, but because of his righteousness and faithfulness to the Jewish God, he survives.   Daniel has divine and heavily symbolic visions of “future” events, and so he becomes noted as a prophet.  In Russian iconography, Daniel is found in the Prophets’ Tier of the iconostasis in Russian Orthodox Churches.

The Book of Daniel also contains the well-known story of the Three Youths, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Jewish captives who were thrown into the fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar because they would not worship his image.

Let’s begin by looking at a very early “pre-icon” period image from the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome, circa 300 c.e.:

It represents the “Three Youths,” or as they are better known in the West, the “Three Hebrew Children” in the fiery furnace.  In early Christian art it seems to have been used as a symbol of deliverance from death, as were catacomb images of Daniel in the lions’ den.  Not all early Christian images from the “symbolic” period survived in later icon art, and those that did are depicted somewhat differently.

Here is a Russian icon of the Three Youths:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The inscription on it reads:

“[The] Three Youths in [the] Furnace”

Nebuchadnezzar is seated on his throne at right, and behind him is the image the Three Youths refused to worship.  They stand unharmed in the fiery furnace, protected by an angel who is generally seen, in Eastern Orthodoxy, as Jesus.  In some examples the halo of the angel has the three bars of the cross commonly found in the halo of Jesus.

In Greek iconography, the type is called Οι Άγιοι Τρεις Παίδες εν τη Καμίνω — Hoi Hagioi Treis Paides en te Kamino — “The Holy Three Boys in the Furnace.”  And neither the Russians nor the Greeks use the Hebrew forms of their names, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; instead, they are in Greek Ανανιας, Αζαριας, and Μισαηλ — Ananias, Azarias, and Misael.

Of course both Russian and Greek iconography includes the very old scene of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.  Here is a very “Westernized” Greek icon of the type, showing popular taste in icons in the 19th and early 20th century, far from the older “byzantine” manner:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The inscription on it reads:  Ο ΠΡΟΦΗΤΗΣ ΔΑΝΙΗΛ — HO PROPHETES DANIEL — “The Prophet Daniel.”  And the lions are rather charming.

There is also a very seldom-seen variant of the “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” type.  It too is called Пророк Даниил во рву львином — Prorok Daniil vo rvu l’vionom — “The Prophet Daniel in the Den of Lions,” but it includes, as you can see, an unusual added element:

(Source: коллекция русских икон арт-галереи Дежа Вю)

коллекция русских икон арт-галереи Дежа Вю)

This 17th-century icon is from the side door of an iconostasis in a church on the Volga.  Its imagery is taken from one of the texts added to the Book of Daniel, in this case the Chapter 14 segment, which Roman Catholics call “Bel and the Dragon”:

33 Now there was in Jewry a prophet, called Habbakuk, who had made pottage, and had broken bread in a bowl, and was going into the field, for to bring it to the reapers. 34 But the angel of the Lord said to Habbakuk, Go, carry the dinner that you have into Babylon to Daniel, who is in the lions’ den.

35 And Habbakuk said, Lord, I never saw Babylon; nor do I know where the den is. 36 Then the angel of the Lord took him by the crown, and carried him by the hair of his head, and through the vehemency of his spirit set him in Babylon above the den. 37 And Habbakuk cried, saying, O Daniel, Daniel, take the dinner which God has sent you.

38 And Daniel said, You have remembered me, O God: nor have you forsaken those who seek you and love you. 39 So Daniel arose, and ate: and the angel of the Lord set Habbakuk in his own place again immediately.

So that is what we see in this variant:  Habbakuk, with his container of pottage, carried into Babylon by an angel, to give the food to Daniel.  And Daniel in the den, with the submissive lions at his feet,  is looking up at Habbakuk.  At the very top, in heaven, is an image of Jesus in his youthful form, called Christ “Immanuel.”

This does not quite complete the number of types related to Daniel, but it is enough for now.  So I will finish today with this very pleasant Russian image of Daniel (at right) painted in the more traditional manner, as he would be seen in the Prophets’ Tier of an iconostasis. The image at left is the Prophet Ezekiel:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)



Here is an image of one of the most traditionally popular saints in Russia — Paraskeva:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Her title is Svyataya Paraskeva Pyatnitsa.  You already know (if you have been reading this site) that Svyataya is the feminine form of the word “Holy.”  Paraskeva is the slavicized Greek Name Παρασκευή — pronounced Paraskevi in modern Greek. In Greece she is also known less formally as  Paraskevoula, which accounts for those Greek ladies called Voula.  In Greek, her name means “Friday.”  When she was adopted by Russia, people did not know what it meant, so the secondary Russian name Pyatnitsa was added.  Pyatnitsa also means “Friday.”  So, odd as it seems, this is  Paraskeva Pyatnitsa  — Saint Friday-Friday.  On Russian icons her name is sometimes written as Paraskoviya, as in this example.

It is traditional for her scroll to show the beginning words of the “Symbol of Faith” — the Nicene Creed:

Верую во единого Бога, Отца Вседержителя, Творца неба и земли…
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…

At first glance, there seems no reason why Paraskeva should have been so popular.  Her name in Greek — Paraskevi — while it refers to Friday, is derived from the verb παρασκευάζω meaning “to get ready, to prepare.”  It is used for the “Day of Preparation” in the New Testament — of preparation for the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday.  So that is why it means also “Friday.”  And significantly, according to the Gospels, Jesus was crucified on Friday.  It is said that Paraskeva was given this name because she was born on a Friday, near Rome, in the 2nd century c.e.

This repetitious connection with Friday is the key to her popularity.

In early pre-Christian Russian lands, Friday was apparently a day sacred to the Slavic goddess  Makosh (Макошь), just as our Friday was originally named in honor of the Nordic Goddess Freya.  Makosh had authority over things important to women — marriage, childbirth, and particularly female occupations such as spinning and weaving.  October 28th was considered the birthday of Paraskeva, and on that day, by folk tradition, women were not to spin or weave or wash linen or children, or go into water; otherwise they would be severely punished by the saint.

Now this connection of both Makosh and her double Paraskeva with the spinning of thread and its weaving is very significant.  The goddess  Makosh is said to have also had power over destiny, which associates her — through spinning — with the Greek Fates (Moirai) and the Scandinavian Norns, who spun and cut the threads of human life and fate.  So that is why anything involving the making and weaving of thread is so important to Paraskeva.  She was very powerful, and in fact an aspect of the ancient Mother Goddess under a Christian name, which is why Paraskeva, in popular Russian thought and folk belief, tended to blend into Mary, mother of Jesus, who was also a Mother Goddess figure in practice (though of course that would not be stated in official Church theology).

In keeping with this connection with human fate and time, Paraskeva is associated with twelve significant Fridays of the calendar year — the Twelve Paraskevas — days on which fasting is said to bring remarkable benefits to those honoring her.  The list of Fridays is found in a document popular among the peasantry, and said to have been written by Pope Clement.  It is called:

Поучение, иже во святых отца нашего Климента, папы Рымскаго о дванадесятницах — “The teaching which is according to our father Clement, Pope of Rome, about the Twelve Days,”

So fasting on all these special Fridays would supposedly protect the believer from, among other things, sudden death, execution, poverty, evil spirits, drowning, lightning and hail, from famine, and ultimately it was believed to ensure the salvation of the believer, stating that those who fast on the Friday before Epiphany would have their names written in the “Book of Life.”  The peasants considered it wise not to discuss this document and its promises with the official clergy, who might be displeased by peasants having such an alternate route to Heaven.

It is not surprising that Paraskeva was also associated with the fertility of the fields and their watering by rain.  In fact she is reminiscent of the germanic Earth Goddess Perchta, also known as Frau Holle, and in English as “Mother Hulda.”  And like this goddess, she was not only associated with springs and water (in some places coins were cast into springs as offerings to her), but she also had a negative aspect.

The germanic goddess Perchta, at her special time of year, would come into homes to make sure the women had been diligent in spinning.   We have seen that Paraskeva also had this association with spinning.  And again like Perchta, Paraskeva had two aspects — that of a beautiful and radiant young woman, but also that of an ugly old hag clothed in rags and dirt.  And just as Perchta punished those who had not been dutiful in spinning, Paraskeva,  as ragged old hag,  would punish those who did not refrain from spinning on a day when it was prohibited.  Among her worst punishments were diseases of the eyes and fingers, both of which severely affected one’s ability to spin and weave.  And do not forget that in the old days, thread had to be spun by hand, and cloth had to be made by hand.  For a peasant woman to lose this ability was disastrous.



In a previous posting I mentioned the семейная икона (semeinaya icona). In Russian, семейство (semeistvo) means “family”; so a семейная / semeinaya icon is a “family icon.” A family icon depicts the saints for whom the members of a family are named. When one comes across an icon with a gathering of saints that seem to have been put together for no obvious reason, it is most likely to be a “family” icon. Such an icon often includes the generic image of the “Guardian Angel,” but not always.  Here is an example:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

It depicts the martyr Khrisanf (Chrysanthos), Thomas Patriarch of Constantinople, Archbishop Evfimiy (Euthemios), Patriarch Sofroniy (Sophronios) of Jerusalem, and the Martyr Daria, with Jesus blessing from the clouds above.

Remember to distinguish the “family” icon, from the патрональная икона — patronal’naya ikona — meaning the “patronal” icon. A “patronal” icon traditionally depicts a saint for whom an individual is named in baptism, his or her “patron saint” as we would say in the West.  It is sometimes called an именная икона — immenaya ikona — a “name” icon, or a тезоименная икона — a “name-sake” icon.  In modern Russian Orthodoxy an icon depicting a single saint may not always be one’s “name day” (also called “angel day) saint, but also possibly one chosen by an individual as a special protector. Here is an example of a patronal icon depicting the Martyr Sophia:


A tradition  in the making of icons for Russian royalty in the 17th and 18th centuries was the painting of a patronal icon for a newborn child on a wooden panel cut to the length of the child, and painted with the child’s name saint.  Such an icon is called a мерная икона — mernaya ikona “measure” icon.  In modern Russia the practice has been revived for icons ordered by ordinary people.


In the latter part of the 19th century, lithographed icons on tin or on paper — such as this  example — contributed to the decline of icon painting in Russia.  The reason was obvious; printed icons were much cheaper than painted icons, and they did the job just as well, from a strictly utilitarian point of view.

The saint depicted here is Tikhon Kaluzhskiy — Tikhon of Kaluga:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

His title in full is Преподобный Тихон Медынский Калужский чудотворец — “Venerable Tikhon of Meduin and Kaluga, Wonderworker.”   Little information has come down about him.  What there is says that he was a Russian saint of the 15th century. Said to have been born in Kiev, he went while still young to Moscow, where he became a monk.  Later he went to live an ascetic life between the towns of Meduin and Kaluga, on the banks of the river Vepreika.  There he took up residence in a hollow oak tree on land claimed by Prince Yaroslav Vladimirovich.  One day the prince was out hunting, and happened to discover Tikhon living on his land.  The Prince flew into a fury and tried to whip Tikhon, but was shocked to find the arm holding the whip had gone numb.  He saw this as a divine sign, and after asking forgiveness, offered to donate money for the building of a monastery.

Just as Simeon Verkhoturskiy is recognized by his fishing pole and bucket, Tikhon of Kaluga is recognized by the hollow oak tree in which he lived.  In the background one can see the Monastery he founded, the Dormition Monastery.

Tikhon is not the only saint who is said to have lived in a hollow tree (for example, the Bulgarian popular saint Ioann (John) of Rila is said to have done so), but when you see a Russian icon depicting a monk standing in a big hollow tree, it is very likely to be Tikhon.


You have probably heard of the Church of Holy Wisdom (now a museum) in Istanbul, the city which, under the name Constantinople, was once the center not only of the Byzantine Empire but also of the Eastern Orthodox Church until it fell to the invading islamic Turks in 1453.  I mention it today because its name has led to some minor confusion.

That confusion arises largely from some calling the church “Saint Sophia.”  However, it was not dedicated to a saint named Sophia, but rather to Jesus in his manifestation as “Holy Wisdom,” which in Greek is Hagia Sophia.

Now you will recall that Hagia in Greek means “holy,” and so it is the word used as the equivalent of our English word “saint.”  So Hagia Sophia can be translated literally as “Holy Wisdom,” or it can be understood to mean “Saint Sophia.”  But “Holy Wisdom” is Jesus, not a saint.  There is, however, a saint found in Eastern Orthodox icons named Sophia.

Do you have all of that straight?  If so, we can move on to take a brief look not at “Holy Wisdom” but rather at the saint named Sophia.

Sophia, according to tradition, was an early Roman Christian, the mother of three daughters named (in Slavic) Vera, Nadezda, and Liubov (“Faith, Hope, and Love” — all supposedly martyred during the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian (ruled 117-138).

Here is an old Novgorodian icon of Sophia with her three daughters:

(Russian State Museum)

(Russian State Museum)

 If we translate their names, we get a mother named “Wisdom” whose daughters are “Faith,” “Hope,” and “Love” (or “Charity,” in KJV English).

Now this may seem a bit too contrived — a mother named Wisdom, with offspring named Faith, Hope, and Love, and some scholars think precisely that — that these are completely fictional saints.  Others would say that while the traditional accounts of their martyrdom are fictional, their martyrdom may have been real.  In later writings there seem to have been two groups of four martyrs by the same name — one mother and daughters group with Greek names, supposedly buried on the Aurelian Way at Rome, and another group of presumably unrelated companions with Latin names, supposedly buried on the Appian Way in the Cemetery of St. Callistus.

The end of the matter is that whether they were entirely or merely partly fictional remains uncertain, but in any case their images are not uncommon in both Russian and (generally later) Greek icons.

Here they are again, in a later Russian icon that also includes the Archangel Gabriel at left and Metropolitan Mikhail of Kiev at right:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Now aren’t you happy to get such a short and undemanding posting after yesterday’s very long one?




This posting will be a test of just how hardcore an icon enthusiast you are (or perhaps a test of how peculiar you have really become).  In any case, it is lengthy and detailed.  Prepare yourself.

The Unburnt Thornbush (Neopalimaya Kupina) icon of Mary is of particular interest because it represents the very “pagan” notion that a painted icon of divine figures has the power to protect from fire.  In old Russia, if a house or building burst into flame, people would stand holding this icon facing the fire in the belief that it would be extinguished.  It was also hung to protect dwellings from fire.  Given that wooden buildings and dwellings were very common, and fire a constant threat, it is not surprising that this “fire insurance” icon was so popular, particularly among the Old Believers.

There is much to say about this type.  Its origins are a mixture of references to Old Testament events, to symbolic references to Mary found in the Akathist hymn and canon, and a good portion of it comes simply from apocryphal writings such as the Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees, particularly those portions relating to the angels surrounding the central figure of Mary holding the child Christ (Christ Emmanuel).

The Russian type, which began to spread in the late 16th century, is quite different than the standard Greek type, which depicts Mary in the Burning Bush of the Book of Exodus.

It is a detailed icon, and rather intimidating for the beginning student because of its unusual iconography and often detailed and unfamiliar inscriptions.  Nonetheless, it is a visually attractive type, being in the “mandala” form that the psychoanalyst Carl Jung considered a symbol of wholeness.

In discussing the iconography of this type, one should keep in mind that there are variations from example to example, both in the figures included and in the inscriptions, though they are usually variations on the same basic concepts.  Different painters might arrange figures differently and vary the inscriptions according to the models available to them and according to their own understanding.  And painters sometimes did not understand their models well, or made mistakes.

The particular icon I will use as the primary example of the type is very well painted, and pleasing both in its figures and in its calligraphy.  Other examples will vary somewhat, but if you understand this example, you should be able to see the essence of the type through such variations.

Let’s look at it:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

As you see, the icon consists of an image of Mary and the Christ Child (Christ Immanuel) set in a bright circle in the center of a blue and red eight-pointed slava (“glory”) symbolizing not only the Eighth Day of Creation (the “Day of Eternity”) but also the Godhood in its two manifestations of light and dark, that which is revealed and that which is a mystery (the “Divine Dark”).  If you have mystical tendencies, you might like to view the light and red part as the cataphatic approach to spirituality through words and descriptions and concepts, and the dark blue part as the apophatic approach through negation, though getting rid of words and descriptions and concepts.  Or you could just forget all of that and see it as a pretty red and a pretty blue, as did most Russian iconographers.

Mary is surrounded by angels, both in the blue quadrangle and in the outer “petals” that form an elongated simple rose-like form.

In the four corners, like the metal corners on an old bound book, are Old Testament scenes considered prefigurations of Mary.

So that is the icon in general.  Now let’s get specific, beginning with the well-written calligraphic vyaz’ title inscription:


To help you out a little, I will separate the words, put them into modern Cyrillic, transliterate them, and translate them.  Superscript (“written above”) letters will be in parentheses, and omitted letters will be added in brackets.  The letter Ы, which some transliterate as Y, I will give more phonetically as UI.  Words grammatically implied will be in lower case:































or to put it in more normal English, “The image of the Unburnt Thornbush Most Holy Mother of God.”  Bogoroditsa is the Slavic term equivalent to Theotokos in Greek, meaning “one who gives birth to God.”

So now we know the title.  It is the “Unburnt Thornbush” image of Mary.

Now for the iconography.  We will begin at the center circle:

The large figure is obviously Mary, as indicated by the MP ΘΥ “Meter Theou” abbreviation above her, meaning “Mother of God.”

She is holding Christ Immanuel, the child Jesus, as indicated by the IC XC “Iesous Khristos” abbreviation above his head.  He holds a rolled scroll in his left hand and blesses with his right.

On Mary’s breast is a smaller image of Jesus robed as a bishop, the “Great High Priest.” He is above a rocky hill.  This image symbolizes the Heavenly Jerusalem, in which Christ is Great High Priest in the temple. The rocky hill is in some examples more obviously a stone on her breast, signifying the “Stone not cut by human hands” of Daniel 2:45:  “Forasmuch as you saw that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver and the gold.”  This signifies the virgin birth of Jesus from Mary, supposedly born without the participation of a human male.

On Mary’s left shoulder is another crowned image, but in red; this is Jesus as “Sophia, Wisdom of God.”  In that form he is shown as an angel with a red face.  I should add that some people identify this figure rather loosely as Christ as Tsar Slavui, “King of Glory,” but in this example Sophia better fits the iconography.

Under Mary’s right hand is a ladder.  This is one of her symbols.  In the Akathist hymn are the words “Rejoice, Heavenly Ladder by which God descended.”  So Mary symbolically is the “ladder” that gave birth to the heavenly Christ.

That was not too difficult, was it?  Well, as the saying goes, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”  It is time to look at the figures in the outer points of the eight-pointed slava.

First we will look at the four in the red quadrangle.  They are the symbols of the Four Evangelists:

This figure, in the form of an angel with a book, is Еуаггелистъ Матфей — Euangelist Matfei — the Evangelist Matthew, holding his gospel.

This figure is  Еуаггелистъ Марко, Euangelist Marko, the Evangelist Mark.  He is depicted as an eagle holding his gospel.

This is Еуаггелистъ Лука — Euagelist Luka — the Evangelist Luke.  He is depicted as an ox, and holds his gospel.


This figure is Еуаггелистъ Иоаннъ — Euangelist Ioann — the Evangelist John.

So much for the easy parts of the main image.  Now we move on to less familiar figures — the angels in the blue quadrangle of the slava:

First, there is this multi-winged angel.  Traditionally a seraph is painted red and a cherubim (Russians always use the plural for the singular in this case) blue, but some painters do not follow this strictly, and this figure has no inscription.  But we will assume a seraph is intended, due to the fiery nature of this icon.

The inscription on these two “blue” angelic figures reads:  Духъ бури Аггли Ветра — Dukh buri Angli Vyetra — “the Spirit of Storms, the Angel of Wind.”

This angel at the bottom of the blue quadrangle is identified by inscription as Аггелъ Господень Приноситъ Молитву и Кадило к Богу — Angel Gospoden Prinosit Molitvu i Kadilo k Bogu — “the Angel of the Lord — Brings Prayer and the censer to God.”  Some like to think of him as the “Angel of unceasing prayer.”

The final angel in the blue quadrangle is this one:

The inscription reads:   И Облаком Аггел дуги — I oblakom Angel dugi — “And of clouds, the Angel of rainbows.”

Now on to the angels in the outer “petals.” of the mandala.  First, top left:

The inscription reads:  Творяи Агглы своя служение снегу и инею — Tvoryai Angli svoya sluzhenie snegu i ineiu — “He makes his angels serving snow and hoar frost.”  You will notice another inscription in read just above the “green” angel’s head, but we will deal with that later.

The inscription here reads Духъ силы Аггелъ росы и мглы — Dukh silui Angel rosui i mglui — “the Spirit of Power, the Angel of dew and fog.”

The inscription is:  Духъ силы Аггелъ творяи мраз и ледъ благоразумно подая всем спасение — Dukh silui angel tvoryai mraz i led blagorazumno podya vsem spasenie — “the Spirit of Power, the angel making  frost and ice — wisely presents to all salvation.”

The inscription is:  Духъ благочестия Аггела мести нанасупостаты подая чашу горести — Dukh blagochestiya Angel mesti na supostatui podaya chashu goresti — “The Spirt of Piety, the Angel of vengeance on enemies, presenting the Cup of Woe.

The inscription:  Духъ разума Аггелъ возбуждая от века спящия — Dukh razuma Angel vozbuzhdaya ot veka spyashchiya — “the Angel of Reason, who rouses from an age of sleep.”

The inscription is: Аггелъ паления сиреч хотящаго быти от праведнаго суди и поделомъ — Angel paleniya sirech khotyashchago buiti ot pravednago sudi i podelom — The Angel of Burning, who will be sent forth by the Righteous Judge and according to [their] works.

The inscription reads:  Духъ страха божия аггелъ возгремения и молни и страшное проявляетъ пришествие — Dukh strakha bozhiya angel vozgremeniya i molni i strashnoe proyavlyaet prishestvie — “the Spirit of the Fear of God, Angel of thunder and lightning, and frightfully reveals the [second] Coming”

The inscription is:  Духъ премудрости аггелъ огня паляща сиреч будушее онаго века поведаетъ — Dukh premdrosti angel ognya palyasha sirech budushee onago veka povedaet — “the Spirit of Wisdom, angel of of burning fire who announces the future of the present age.”

Now we will return to the left-out word that I mentioned earlier by a top figure, in fact there are several such words arranged widely-spaced around the outer edge of the “rose.”  To understand their meaning, we have to assemble them, because they belong together  I have left them at the angles on which they appear, to help you place them on the image:

Tvoryai — “(He) makes…”

Angelui – (“the angels…”

Svoya — “of him…”

Dukhi — “spirits…”

I slugi — “and the servants…”


Svoya — “of him…”

Ogn — “a fire…”

Pyalyashch — “burning.”

To put it all together in normal English, “Who makes his angels spirits, his servants a burning flame.”  This is the Slavic version of Hebrews 1:7:  “And of the angels he says, Who makes his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.

There are a number of apocryphal sources responsible for this notion of angels controlling the weather and the elements, but one of the most obvious is the Book of Jubilees, Chapter 2:

And the angel of the presence spake to Moses according to the word of the Lord, saying: Write the complete history of the creation, how in six days the Lord God finished all His works and all that He created, and kept Sabbath on the seventh day and hallowed it for all ages, and appointed it as a sign for all His works.

For on the first day He created the heavens which are above and the earth and the waters and all the spirits which serve before him -the angels of the presence, and the angels of sanctification, and the angels [of the spirit of fire and the angels] of the spirit of the winds, and the angels of the spirit of the clouds, and of darkness, and of snow and of hail and of hoar frost, and the angels of the voices and of the thunder and of the lightning, and the angels of the spirits of cold and of heat, and of winter and of spring and of autumn and of summer and of all the spirits of his creatures which are in the heavens and on the earth; (He created) the abysses and the darkness, eventide <and night>, and the light, dawn and day, which He hath prepared in the knowledge of his heart.

And thereupon we saw His works, and praised Him, and lauded before Him on account of all His works; for seven great works did He create on the first day.”

One can see that the components of this icon have a great deal to do with fire and burning and lightning, as well as with frost, ice, rain and clouds.  When one combines these with the “fire” attributes of Mary, it is not difficult to understand how the belief arose that this icon could control the elements and subdue fire.

Now let’s look at the prefigurations of Mary in the four corners of the icon:

The inscription reads:  Видехъ купину огнем горяща и незгараему рече Господь о купиныи изуи сапогъ с ногу твоему но немже ты тоиши место свято есть  —  “I saw a bush burning with fire and not consumed; the Lord said of the bush, take off the shoes from your feet, for this place on which you stand is holy.”

We see Моисей — Moses — kneeling to take of his shoes as he looks toward the Burning Bush in which Mary is seen in the “Znemie” — “Sign” form with the child Jesus.  An angel is at left of the bush.  This image signifies that the Burning Bush of Moses was a prefiguration of Mary, who in her pregnancy with Jesus was filled with the fire of divinity, yet was not consumed.

The incident is recorded in Exodus 3:

1 Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.

2 And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.

3 And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.

4 And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.

5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon you stand is holy ground.

 The inscription reads:  Жезлъ искорен Иессеова и цветъ от него Христосъ — “A rod from the root of Jesse, and the flower out of it is Christ.”

That is taken from Isaiah 11, considered a prediction of Jesus in Eastern Orthodoxy:

1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

2 And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;

3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:

This “Rod of Jesse” image is sometimes replaced by  that of Isaiah’s lips being purified by the fire of a coal taken from the altar by a seraph. (Isaiah 6:5-7); Mary was considered purified by being pregnant with the “fire of God.”

The inscription is:  Спя Иаков на пути и виде лествицу  утверждену на землие иже глава досязаше до небеси и аггли божий восхождаху и изходашу по ней — “Jacob slept on the way and saw a ladder set up on earth, the head of which reached to heaven, and angels of God ascending and descending on it.

It comes from Genesis 28:12:

And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.

This ladder in Eastern Orthodoxy is considered a prefiguration of Mary, the “ladder” by which Christ descended from heaven to earth.  The Akathist hymn says, “Rejoice, heavenly ladder by which God descended.”

The inscription reads:  Иезкииль видехъ от востока врата затворена никтоже проидетъ ими токмо Господь богъ израилев — “Ezekiel saw in the East a closed door; no one goes through it but the Lord God of Israel.”

It comes from Ezekiel 44:1-2:

1 Then he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looks toward the east; and it was shut.

2 Then said the Lord unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut.

This closed door too is a prefiguration of Mary, the “Door of Solemn Mystery” in the Akathist hymn.  It symbolizes the perpetual virginity of Mary in giving birth to Jesus.  Of course these prefigurations are just the result of theologians reading Mary back into the Old Testament.

Now that I have discussed this interesting and detailed type of the Unburnt Thornbush, there are, as mentioned earlier, variations on this type.  Some examples show only the central figure of Mary and Child on the slava with the symbols of the Four Evangelists around them.   A later, commonly State Church type shows, in place of the angels of weather and apocalypse, the archangels.

In the latter case, the Archangel Michael holds a rod, Raphael holds an alabastron (alabaster vessel), Uriel holds a flaming sword, Selaphiel holds a censer, Barakhiel holds Grapes, and Gabriel holds a branch from Paradise.

To finish this very long posting, I should add that the Greek depictions of the type are quite different from the Russian.  The Greeks call their version  η Βάτος η Φλεγομένη — He Vatos he Phlegoumeni — The Bush [the] Burning, or simply η Φλεγομένη Βάτος – “The Burning Bush.”

 This Greek type is rather similar to the corner depiction of Moses and the Burning Bush in the Russian type.  It commonly shows Moses seeing the Burning Bush, then he is shown again removing his sandals.  Mary sits amid the bush with the angel at the left of it.  Some examples are quite simple, others elaborate by adding scenes such as Moses receiving the tablets of the law and other scenes from the story of Moses at Sinai in the Book of Exodus.  Some even add the figure of the much later John of Damascus
Here is a typical example, with Moses shown three times, along with some sheep nibbling at shrubs and drinking:
The inscription at upper right, by the Hand of God coming out of a cloud and giving Moses the tablets of the law says:  ΝΟΜΟΝ ΥΠΟ ΧΕΙΡΟC ΚΥΡΙΟΥ — Nomon hypo kheiros Kyriou — ” …The Law by the Hand of the Lord.”
Not surprisingly, this Greek type is traditionally associated with the Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai, where the monks will still point out a tangled mass of shrubbery  atop a wall, and tell you it is the same Burning Bush that Moses saw, though others may say it is taken from a stock of that bush.  In any case, the shrub is a kind of bramble, Rubus ulmifolius, subspecies sanctus — the “Holy Bramble.”  The age of fable is not dead.


Today’s Marian icon is among the less common.  It is called  Целительница — Tselitel’nitsa — the “Healer.”  Here is a simple rendering:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

This is a good time to make sure you know the significance of two important Slavic suffixes.  In Russian icons, a descriptive name ending in -nik indicates a male who is or does something related to the preceding word.  You can think of -nik  it as meaning loosely “person,” or “guy” in its modern sense, like Simeon Stolpnik — “Simeon the Pillar-guy,” or as having the meaning of English -er as in “hunter”  Again, that is the male suffix.

If dealing with a female, the suffix is -nitsa, as it today’s icon, the Tselitel’nitsa.  целить — tselit’ in Russian means “to heal,” so a tselitelnitsa is a female who heals.

According to the traditional story, the type name dates back to 4th-century Georgia and the time of Nina the Enlightener, who is credited with the conversion of Georgia (the country, not the American state) to Christianity.  That type was kept in the Tsilkani Church in Kartli.

The type that later became popular in Russia, however, has its origin story — like the Marian icon called “Unexpected Joy” —  in the collection of pious writings called The Dew-wet Fleece, by Bishop (and E. Orthodox saint) Dimitriy Rostovskiy (1651-1709).

According to that account, a certain cleric named Vikentiy (Vincent) Bulvinenskiy had the pious habit of pausing, each time he entered or left the church, to kneel before the icon of Mary and say this prayer:

Радуйся, Благодатная! Господь с Тобою! Блаженно чрево, носившее Христа, и сосцы, питавшие Господа Бога и Спасителя нашего!

Rejoice, Favored One!  The Lord is with you.  Blessed is the womb that bore Christ, and the breasts that fed our Lord God and Savior.

“Rejoice, Favored one …” is the Slavic version of “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, etc.”

Now it happened that this cleric fell ill with a terrible and dangerous disease.  His tongue began to decay, and it was so painful that he lost consciousness.  Coming to himself for a moment, he began saying his habitual prayer to Mary, and suddenly a beautiful young man appeared at his bedside, his Guardian Angel.  The Angel called out to Mary, asking her for healing.

Mary suddenly appeared and healed the man.  He arose feeling quite well and went into the church and joined in singing with the choir, much to the amazement of the people.

As you see, the type shows Mary, wearing a crown and holding a scepter, standing by the bed of the ill man.

Many examples of this type have a rectangle of text within the image that tells the story, just as the customary rectangle in the “Unexpected Joy” icon tells the story of that type.  And both begin with a “certain” fellow who has a regular habit of praying to Mary using the greeting of the Annunciation, “Hail Mary, etc.” — and of course both men experience a Marian miracle.

An icon of this type was kept in the Alexeyev Convent in Moscow, and became noted for various supposed miracles in the latter part of the 18th century, which contributed to the spread of the type in Russian iconography of the late 18th-early 20th century.